Life Is Forcing Us to Adapt, and We Will Build Resilience and Emerge Stronger.
Over the course of my life, I have learned that one of the most important skills is resilience. I use the word skill intentionally as I believe resilience is learned; we are not born with it. I also know—from my own challenging times—that the person I became at the end of those times was a better version of myself.
Currently, we are all part of one of the greatest social experiments’ humankind has ever known, and as dreadful as it is, I firmly believe we will all come out of this more resilient than before. This is known as Adapted Resilience: the resilience that comes about due to challenges that force us to learn on the spot. Resilient people engage in less risky behavior, they are less likely to rely on drugs, alcohol, and smoking to cope, and they are usually in better health. Resilient people cope, they adapt, and bounce back. These are all good things.
What gives me the idea that I can talk about resilience? The first big smack-in-the-face was in March 1999. We were about to immigrate from South Africa to the US. With our dream house sold, a life of thirty-eight years closed down, farewells said, and the container packed, we were ready. Then days before stepping on the plane, without any warning, our visa was delayed—by almost eight months! The blow was staggering. We theoretically had no home, no jobs, and two children, 6 and 3. Thankfully, we had resources, and I quickly learned a house is just a building. My ‘home’ was my husband and children.
November 1999, we started our new life in the USA. We knew not a single solitary soul. We needed to find a house, a car, and to enroll our (now) 7yr old in school. But, I had my soulmate by my side, and we would figure it out together. Then we found out my husband’s job wasn’t a 45 minute drive away as ‘guaranteed.’ It was in another state. A month after arriving, he became a Monday to Thursday commuter—and I was all alone. I learned I was stronger than I knew.
In the summer of 2000, he was reassigned to a Wall Street client in NYC—a daily commute from our home. Thirteen months later, he walked through the train station at the World Trade Center, 40 minutes before the first plane hit the North Tower. I saw it all on TV and had no idea where he was. Seven hundred and fifty people from our state of New Jersey lost their lives. I can’t really remember those hours until, at 2:30pm, I went to our local station to meet my husband. He walked off the train like a ghost, covered head-to-toe in white powdery dust. As the city shut down, his job was in jeopardy. All the businesses in NYC shut their doors to their Fin-Tech consultants. We knew his job was hanging by a thread. No job means no visa. No visa means you are in the US illegally, and you have two weeks to leave the country. We dug deep, remained positive.
Thankfully, the job survived, but the government set aside all Green Card applications from low-risk countries while they examined every single GC application from high-risk countries. What should have taken us two years to move from visa-holders to green card holders, Lawful Permanent Residents, took almost five years. As a visa holder, you have no bargaining power and are tied to the company that holds your visa; you are an indentured servant. We learned to be grateful for what we had.
The Green Cards came through, and a new job arrived—and two years later, they implemented lay-offs.
Another better job was secured, but it meant a brutal commute for my husband. For eighteen months, he worked on the West Coast and came home to the East Coast on weekends. I was a single-married mother. I learned how to handle all the things I had previously left up to him.
He landed a new job, based back in NYC, and we exhaled a little. Then the 2008 Great Recession slammed the economy. Wall Street banks were falling like dominoes, and again, we held our breaths. Each day I waited until 9 am. If I didn’t get a call, I knew the bank was still standing. Salaries went backward, but we hung on.
We survived, we grew, we moved forward.
And then in 2011, on his 15th birthday, our son was rushed to ER with a collapsed lung. On February 3, in ICU with a chest tube, our 15yr old son was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. My world stopped. He started chemotherapy on February 4, 2011, and ended on May 16, 2014. Three and half years of chemo, twenty-seven spinal taps, blood & plasma transfusions, weeks in ICU, and countless days in hospital transformed us all. It was during this time that both my parents passed away in South Africa, but my son was too sick for me to leave him. I did not attend either funeral. I learned we were so much braver than I ever imagined—my son more than any of us.
As South Africans say, I’ve had my corners rubbed off, but I have grown and evolved into a better person. I don’t attach worth to material possessions. I put family ahead of everything. I value health more highly than anything else. I take nothing for granted. I am grateful every single day. And I know, completely and utterly, you can choose to be happy, to remain positive no matter what life throws at you.
Although this pandemic may leave us feeling as though we have lost all control, I disagree; we can control how we respond. I learned you could not let your emotions get the best of you, or you will be left paralyzed with fear. But, you can use the pain to learn and grow. Post-Traumatic Growth: when we emerge with a greater sense of purpose, a greater appreciation for life and loved ones, and a desire to act for the greater good.
This pandemic has us reeling, but it will not bring us to our knees. It will build our resilience, and we will emerge stronger.